In my own voice: Tackling heart disease and diabetes


By Emily Welch


Getting healthy often begins with coming to a conclusion — that it’s time to do something. When a routine blood test showed that her cardiac risk factors had increased, along with her blood sugar level, Emily Welch took action. The Westford resident, who teaches kindergarten in Lowell, signed up for Emerson’s Exercise & Weight Loss Prevention Program for Those at Risk for Heart Disease or Type 2 Diabetes. She hoped the class would motivate her to change behav­ior — specifically, to commit to exercise. During the 12-week class last winter, she learned a lot about nutrition, exercise, stress management and behavior modifi­cation, and she made a number of healthy changes.

I saw that my cholesterol had gone up, but what scared me was the triglycer­ides were much higher, and my blood sugar level was right on the line. My brother developed type 2 diabetes. Even though I’m on my feet all day teach­ing school, my weight had crept up, little by little. I knew I needed to get more exercise.

For me, the challenge was how to make exercise habitual by fitting it into my life without it being a big production. I’m not someone who likes to go to a gym, and when the workday is over, I keep working. Could I make myself — my health — more important? I hoped that by joining the class, I would begin a new behavior.

Right from the beginning, I learned a lot from the staff — especially Julia Elliott, the program’s registered dietitian. I had dieted before, but Julia explained how carbohydrates operate in our bodies and why certain ones are better than others. She measures and weighs you each week and gives you recommendations on how many calories you should be taking in. It was very helpful.

Over the course of the program, I lost 15 pounds. When the class was over, I signed up for another 12 weeks, and I continued to lose more weight. One key to my success is that I stopped eating bread. I’ve gone down a size, and I feel great.

The class begins with an hour of exercise, which includes a warm-up and cool-down and is followed by a lecture by one of the staff, including a dieti­tian, physical therapist and social worker, or watching a video together. I tried out the various exercise machines and realized that my favorite exercise is walking. Starting last January, throughout all those snowstorms, I put on my boots and walked up and down the street. I got it done.

The class put me in a different frame of mind. At first, my aim was to walk 120 minutes a week. Now I’m walking 45 minutes five days a week; that’s 225 minutes. The American Heart Association recommends that you get 150 min­utes of aerobic exercise per week, so I feel good about that. I also got a tracker, which has motivated me to stay on my program. I know how many steps I’ve taken, and if I haven’t reached 10,000, I get moving.

The other thing the class did was to start a conversation at home. My family loves the dietary changes we’ve made. We do great things with cauliflower and brussels sprouts!

One thing leads to another. I think if you put yourself into a structure, and you’re open to learning and trying things, good things happen. Attending the class at Emerson made me realize I didn’t have to spend money on equip­ment or fancy clothes. I just had to make exercise a priority. I had to make the commitment to changing my behavior; no one could do that for me.

My wake-up call was the result of that blood test. I could have waited until my blood sugar spiked, and I had type 2 diabetes. Instead, I made myself a priority by attending the class. I believe I’ve made a permanent change.

For more information or to register for the Exercise & Weight Loss Prevention Program for Those at Risk for Heart Disease or Type 2 Diabetes, please call 978-287-3732.